Is a raw food diet more nutritious than cooked food?
Before cooking existed, humans altered foods in many ways. For example, chewing food breaks down fibres, therefore improving the digestibility. Saliva breaks down plant enzymes, altering the absorption of nutrients. While simply exposing the food to oxygen or sunlight alters the nutrient profile.
When humans learnt to use and control fire, our evolutionary history changed forever.
Learning to control and use fire gave way to a new era of nutrition. Cooked food. This new technique altered the nutrient profile of foods in even more ways. Our ancestors gained more energy, a greater diversity of food and nutrients while food became safer.
Many scientists have hypothesized that the ability to cook food is directly linked to the development of bigger brains and longer life expectancy.
But now that we have big brains and an (over) abundant energy supply, is cooking still beneficial? Or should we all go back to raw?
Cooked vs Raw: vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients you must get from your food and drink, so you want to make sure there are plenty packed into your meals. The good news for cooked food is that most of these nutrients have only minimal losses when cooked.
The US Department of agriculture has identified
Although iron isn’t effected by cooking, Oxalates are a compound that bind to plant-based sources of the mineral iron, preventing absorption. Spinach is high in iron but also oxalate meaning it is not actually a good source of iron. However, by slightly steaming spinach, some
Will you lose your antioxidants?
There are hundreds of other bio-active compounds present in your food, many with benefits to your health. From anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants to molecules with anti-cancer and antibacterial properties.
Cooking losses from these other nutrients have been found to be small. In many cases, cooking can actually improve the availability of these molecules by breaking down the fibrous molecules they are trapped in.
Lycopene, a beneficial antioxidant found in tomatoes, is higher in cooked tomatoes than fresh. This is because the lycopene is trapped within fibrous parts of the cell wall that your body cannot break down. Cooking breaks down the cell wall, releasing the
It has also been found that antioxidants in some vegetables such as carrot, broccoli and zucchini were
Of course, cooking isn’t beneficial to all nutrients in food. Broccoli contains an enzyme which helps produce a molecule called sulforaphone, a powerful antioxidant. However, this molecule is
Some things are best destroyed
Not everything in your food will do you good. Bacteria that live and breed in food are a good source of
You can’t absorb every single nutrient from the food you eat. You have to make sacrifices. The best bet to make sure you get a range of different nutrients is to eat a mixture of raw and cooked foods.
Switch between fresh salads and cooked vegetable dishes. Use different cooking methods with your vegetables and try not to overcook them.
To make up for the losses of some vitamins and minerals you can eat some fresh foods that are high in the lost nutrients.
Importantly, to get lots of nutrients, you need to eat a wide variety of different foods. Many nutrient-packed foods are wrapped up in fibrous bonds that your body cannot break down. Think legumes and lentils, potatoes and wholegrains. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibres.
However, eaten raw, they are likely to cause pain and discomfort. Cooking partly breaks down the fibrous bonds, allowing your body to digest them and access the nutrients.
- There are many complex reactions that take place between different compounds in your food and within your body that you cannot control.
- Cooking can cause some vitamins particularly Vitamin C, thiamine and folate to leach out into cooking water. Eating some uncooked foods high in these nutrients helps to make up for any cooking losses.
- Many antioxidant molecules in food are made more bio-available from the cooking process. However, there are others that may be destroyed.
- Some things are best destroyed such as harmful bacteria. Cooking helps to make food safer by destroying some of the disease causing bacteria.
- Having a mixture of cooked and raw foods helps to ensure you get a variety of nutrients from a variety of foods.
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